Imagine the following scenario. You’ve prepared thoroughly for the GMAT, studying over the span of months and building confidence in Sentence Correction and Reading Comprehension, areas that originally gave you trouble.
You know you’ve done the work needed to get the high score you want. However, on test day, when you finally receive your score after an exhausting four hours of answering question after question, your heart drops at the sight of verbal score much lower than you expected.
How did this happen, especially after all the work you put into studying for the Verbal section?
If this situation sounds familiar, the problem may not be a question of your grasp of the material or how much you studied. It may simply be a case of test fatigue, the accumulative mental strain that wears away your focus and causes errors.
Unfortunately, the GMAT’s duration can be as big of a challenge as its material for many test takers. Even students who ace every Sentence Correction or Reading Comprehension question thrown their way can stumble on these sections at the end of the test. The good news is that there are a few simple things you can do to fight test fatigue and ensure that your energy and focus will last through the entire test.
You may be wondering how hydrating is going to lead to a higher verbal score. If you have any doubts, let these scientific facts wash them away. Water makes up approximately 60 percent of the brain, and your level of hydration can have profound effects on your neurological functioning. When your body lacks water, brain cells shrink and the communication among brain cells slows — exactly what you don’t want to happen in the middle of the GMAT. In fact, just a 1 to 2 percent drop in fluid levels can lead to decreased attention and slower thinking.
Start hydrating properly before your test day. Traditionally, experts have recommended drinking eight glasses of water a day, but this amount is widely debated. For starters, make sure you are drinking water throughout the day, especially if you have a habit of drinking sodas or caffeinated beverages, which can dehydrate the body.
On test day, be sure to take in fluids before the test and consider bringing a water bottle with you to the testing facility. Hydrating properly does not mean pounding as much water as you can, which is actually unhealthy, so don’t overdue it. At the very least make sure you drink enough not to become thirsty during the test.
Why carbs? It turns out that the brain is a picky eater. The brain’s mitochondria rely on the energy of glucose obtained from carbohydrates, and since it cannot store its own energy, the brain needs a constant supply of glucose from the blood stream to fuel its processes.
Taking a test on an empty stomach is a terrible idea, but loading up on sugury snacks to spike your energy level is not wise either. To ensure you sustain your energy and focus through the entire test, you want to keep your blood sugar level steady. Make sure you eat a hearty meal a few hours before the test and avoid candy or sugary drinks for bursts of energy as they cause a spike in insulin and an inevitable “crash.”
In terms of what you should eat, make sure your pre-test meal is loaded with healthy, complex carbohydrates, such as the carbs found in dense grains like steel cut oats, brown rice or quinoa, and bring low-glycemic snacks with you like trail mix or healthy energy bars.
It turns out that practicing good posture does more than just please your mother, it may also lead to a higher GMAT score. Research continues to illuminate the reciprocal mind-body relationship, showing how the mind can actually take cues from how we physically hold ourselves. In particular, studies have demonstrated how posture significantly affects attention and mood.
When you feel tired or you mind feels muddled during the test, check your posture. If you’re slouching or hunched over, straighten up. You’ll not only feel more alert, you’ll be more alert, and it will be easier to focus on the question in front of you.
Energy levels are also affected by movement. Sitting in front of a computer screen for hours drains your energy. Getting up and moving, making the blood flow through your body by stretching or simply standing up, will subsequently recharge your energy and rejuvenate your focus, decreasing your chances of making a careless error.
Don’t let your score fall prey to test fatigue. Use these three simple strategies to give you the focus you need in the last half of the test.